Friday, April 10, 2015

The Marxist concept of 'Property'

Something that I hear Communists say is that they want you abolish private property. This is found in the Communist Manifesto, and I've seen a few Facebook communists claim this. I have no particular intellectual problem with this, until I hear the secondary claim: That they don't want to take away your home or your belongings. I typically hear it as the want to abolish private property for the things that you 'don't need.' A good example would be a second home, or something like that.

The problem with this is that it is inconsistent, and neglects the reason for 'ownership' of even a small amount of property. Suppose we limit each individual to what they need, as the Communist ideal would go: "To each according to his need." What is it an individual needs? Food, water, housing. In this day and age, we consider housing to include electricity, sanitation, and temperature control (heating and A/C). Okay, so if we consider that each person will control their own food, water, housing (own it). How do we get the builder to make that second house beyond his own? He won't own it, since private property doesn't exist, and he already controls his own home.

Suppose we have a small community, with one farmer, and one builder  (and we are supposing that the single farmer can feed everyone. I'll deal with the other case in a bit). The builder builds two houses, and one goes to the farmer. Is the builder then free forever to live off of the farmer? What if the builder is no good at farming, or is incapable of it? Is the farmer then forced to work to feed the builder for the rest of the builder's life? Suppose some disaster strikes, and the farmer is injured, and can only work enough to feed himself. Does he still have to provide food for the builder?

Now, that construction was a little naive, and the builder could farm, and the farmer could build. But in that case, why is one entitled to the labor of the other? If the builder builds a second home, why is the farmer entitled to it for no labor? The builder spent his labor to build it, surely he should be compensated for his work somehow. Otherwise, it would be slavery. Similarly, if the builder can't farm, how is he entitled to the work of the farmer? They can certainly trade between the two of them, but that presupposes that there is ownership of the goods being traded. The extra house being traded for food requires that the extra house is owned, as is the food.

Let us also look at the case where the farmer cannot feed both himself and the builder with his labor. If he doesn't enlist the builder's help, one of them will starve. Is the builder the one who gets the food? Well, not if you own the labor and materials that you need. In that case, the farmer gets to keep the food, because he needs it, and only the excess is given away. This puts the builder in a predicament. Why should he build a house for a farmer who will not feed him? In reality, the builder should build his house and then take up farming, but leaving that aside, why should he build that second house for the farmer? He gets no benefit, and starves to death, at which point the farmer can take his stuff (unless the farmer died of exposure).

The problem with abolishing private property is that there is no incentive to reach beyond subsistence. There is no reason to build that second home, since you won't use it. There is no reason to farm the extra food. Any extra labor beyond subsistence has its benefits denied to the individual, and becomes a form of slavery.